“Video games are bad at handling sex.” It’s kind of a cliché in video game writing, and it’s not one I agree with.

The problem isn’t that games as a medium are inherently bad at handling sex, but that we look at such a narrow selection of the games that even dare to cover sex. Whenever somebody decides to cover the topic, it’s either through one of BioWare’s RPGs (Mass Effect, Dragon Age), or the perverted Japanese game du jour (Senran Kagura, Akiba’s Trip). How can such a narrow selection of games represent everything the medium is capable of doing? This is why I’m so interested in Cute Demon Crashers, a recent visual novel about romancing incubi: the game does so much to broaden the conversation, for better and for worse.

Let’s start with the better: how the game incorporates sex into play. This is something of a weak point for the other games I brought up, as they all tend to look at sex in very similar ways. They usually treat like a reward for all the hard work you put into romancing your partner. You make some choices over the course of the game, watch the characters get it on, and then it’s business as usual. (There are also some Flash hentai that turn sex into a mini-game, but that’s about it for variety.) If developers modified this framework to fit their game’s specific needs, then I could see this representing a wide variety of perspectives on sex.

Unfortunately, not a lot of games do that. They apply the framework very rigidly, stretching themselves so thin that they can’t accurately portray any approach to sex. Sex between friends is out, given the strong romantic overtones in a lot of games. Yet romantic sex doesn’t make a lot of sense, either, given how isolated the sex is from the rest of the relationship. And without modifications, you can’t apply this framework to one night stands without making the characters look like manipulative pick up artists.

That’s the key, though: developers need to modify their games depending on what kind of sex they want to put in them. For example, Cute Demon Crashers really does want to portray all of these perspectives, so it focuses on consent. Nothing happens in the game without your explicit approval, whether it’s ordering a pizza or giving somebody a handjob. There’s even a huge STOP button hovering in the corner in case you want to stop having sex.

While this sounds like a minor change, the consent motif does a lot to inform the game’s approach to sex. Because the game has to be attentive to your needs, it has to be accepting of whatever those needs might be. Thus, it can accommodate a wide range of views on sex without tripping over itself to do so. You can have an emotionally fulfilling sexual experience, or you can just have a one night fling – sometimes even in the same act. As long as you’re comfortable and enjoying the experience, the game won’t judge you or your sexual desires.

There’s a caveat, though. Despite how open-minded Cute Demon Crashers is regarding sexuality, it still recognizes sex as a fundamentally personal act. This becomes a problem when you stop to think about what role you occupy as the player. Usually when a game tries to include sex in some fashion, it frames the main character (the person participating in the sex) in one of two ways: either as the generic everyman with little individuality, or as somebody completely distinct from the person playing the game. I’ve seen games do great things with both strategies, so I’m not going to judge. But the only reason they’re able to do those things is because they know what they’re doing with those approaches. Each approach has its own specific purpose, and trying to treat them interchangeably will only result in disaster.

For example, if you want the player to be a part of the sexual experience, then you’re best suited using an everyman character. They have just the right lack of personality that the player can imagine themselves in their shoes. Any more personality and you start to feel like you’re intruding on a private moment. That’s why games with distinct characters either own up to it or use sex for some other purpose. Katawa Shoujo would be a really good example of the latter: it uses sex as a lens to explore relationships and how the characters relate to one another. Emi uses it to keep Hisao at an emotional distance, whereas Hanako hopes he’ll view her as an equal person after they have sex with one another.

Cute Demon Crashers occupies a strange middle ground where it tries to play both perspectives at once. On the one hand, the fact that I name the main character tells me that I’m playing as a generic everygirl. But then she has a life of her own, and as the player, I’m privy to a couple of scenes she shouldn’t have any knowledge of. This renders me a passive observer with no connection to the story. Or at least it does in theory; there’s enough evidence on both sides that either perspective makes sense. Unfortunately, the game can only make sense if you’re directly involved in the story’s events. Otherwise, I don’t understand how I’m supposed to relate to them. Am I still having sex as one of the incubi, or am I the creep watching from behind the curtains?

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I can think of no better place to see that contradiction in action than at the start of the game. Our story begins with our groggy heroine greeting the day with some masturbation. We know astonishingly little about this person, so this is a really heavy note for the game to start on. We have no relationship with her right now, so we don’t know if she’d be OK with somebody watching her during such a private moment. In fact, she doesn’t even know that we’re here, giving the scene this leering and intrusive feeling that keeps me from enjoying the story. And it doesn’t get better as the game goes on. Just moments after waking up, she catches the incubi in her room and contemplates calling the police. (You can even choose to do so for a comically abrupt ending.) I can’t imagine she’d react much better knowing I was watching, especially considering how I’m not a girl.

Yet for all its flaws, I’m glad that a game like Cute Demon Crashers exists. It does so much to open the door for how we talk about sex in games. It explores new ways of looking at the topic, and it proves what games are capable of when it comes to sex. Developers everywhere can do so much giving the player sex as a reward for romancing somebody long enough. There’s so much more to having sex than that, and this visual novel demonstrates as much.

 

About The Author

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Your typical freelance writer, except I specialize in the older Japanese stuff. I don't know how typical that is.

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  • I don’t really understand this criticism against the way Claire’s everygirl role is presented. She is no different than any other everyman that you see a lot in visual novels. A character doesn’t stop being an everyman because they have *some* hints of individuality in them, like if they have a hobby or make their own decision that makes sense within context. That’s actually completely standard, and a character do need those anyway, otherwise they would be a ghost and not a character interacting within the story. A character also need to care about stuff anyway, because if they don’t, the player has no reason to either. What matters for the everyman is that what little personality they have don’t clash too much with what the player is expected to want out of the story, and also that they have a very average life routine, generally middle-class, or that correspond to the targeted audience. I don’t really see how Claire breaks from those principles in any tangible way.

    For comparison, I can give an example of a VN that clearly breaks one of those principles: in the first Grisaia game, during most of Michiru route, the protagonist is extremely indifferent to her to the point where that makes him an asshole, even though if the player chose to pursue this route, it should be expect to mean that they care about Michiru’s character and so the protagonist should not go against this so strongly and for so long. Compared to this, Claire feels very tame to me in terms of going against what the player is expected to want or what their everyday life is expected to look like.

    I don’t really get either why you insist on the player having a presence in the story, but outside of Claire’s shoes. While it’s unusual for first-person narratives to have scenes without the protagonist, I don’t see how that establishes a second player-presence *inside* the story. And on a meta-level, the voyeuristic reader/spectator is a perspective that can be pointed out in any story, and not even just media with sexual content, so what makes it so tangible to you this game?

    • Traditionally the “everyman” is even simpler. It’s just some poor schlub so you feel like, if he could get the girl, then surely can you too!

  • To me this looks like softcore porn in the form of a videogame for girls with questionable turnons.

    Games can deal with romance and sex very easily if they want to. Romance and especially sex are very much just a variation on “action”, it’s one of the few things that’s truly worth controlling in a traditional video game. It’s just not placed on the same pedestal as combat for example. Which I find a little odd, because I can’t remember ever reading a non-children’s book that wasn’t chocked full or romance and sex. Almost all books are technically erotica (if one page of erotica constitutes as much.)

    (Almost everything else in body games is best handled by a general purpose Use verb–if it cannot be left to the player character to decide what to do and take action themself.)